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Interview

Illustrator Lou Brooks talks about his life and reading

READERSVOICE.COM aims to give people a few good reading tips. This issue features artist Lou Brooks. Lou Brooks has tried his hand at everything: car racing, stand-up comedy, deejaying, writing, comics and illustration. He is also the author of Skate Crazy, from Running Press, which features 450 decals from the roller skating world from the 1930s to the 1950s. This issue features part one of a two-part interview, with the second part featured in the November issue.Lou Brooks has lived through some interesting times, too, so this interview is a bit of a social history; it covers his travels with his wife Clare - living in San Francisco in the 1960s, and New York in the late 1970s. Also Lou Brooks talks about his distinctive art work, and gives some good reading tips.

You might want to check out loubrooks.com before reading this interview. It features his distinctive illustration style and sense of humor – note his bold guarantee.

READERSVOICE.COM: You said that you and your wife Clare worked out that you’d moved 17 times over the years. What sort of places did you move in and out of, and what addresses, over the years, and why did you move so many times?

LOU BROOKS: Looking back, I suppose I should have invested my money wisely in U-Haul stock. But come to think of it, I’ve never invested my money wisely in anything at all. Clare and I met in Philadelphia in June ’67 — the Summer of Love. She was a ballet dancer with New York City Opera, coming back from a serious back injury when I met her. Had the injury not happened, she most likely would have toured the world as a great ballerina, and I would have married this truck stop waitress in Trenton.

Clare and I got married in August, and by September we were in my VW headed for the Haight Ashbury. When we got there, it had sort of already dwindled down to the Summer of Somewhat Friendly.

Besides the VW, we had $600 from Clare’s savings account. Between odd jobs from Manpower and a freelance writing assignment here and there, we managed to last a year, then had to move back to Philly where a job was waiting for me as an editor for a really stupid rock and roll magazine.

I got to go to all the concerts and interview musicians. I remember spending a whole afternoon getting drunk with Dave Van Ronk in this Philly motel. I drove him to the club for his performance, and he got up on the stage like he had just gotten up from a Sunday breakfast and did two terrific shows, while I tried to focus through one eye.

In ‘68 we were sort of celebrities to our Philly friends for having been hippies out in the Haight. It was like we had been to Tibet, and they thought we knew some zodiacal secret or something. Weird.

While at the magazine, I lied my way into an underground disc jockey job. I would just play loud music on Saturdays (the long version of “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” when I had to seriously use the bathroom), miss station IDs and ad spot cues, and not bother too much keeping playlists. I lasted the summer until the station caught on and fired me for getting them an FCC citation. Wish I had a copy of the thing.

Right after that, the magazine fired me, too. It was in the days when I couldn’t decide whether to grow my hair to my ass or to my feet, and my 40-something boss… threw me out for trying to slip some Jimi Hendrix photos into the magazine that a friend had taken at some local outdoor concert one hot summer night. Spectacular black-and-white glossy 8 x 10 close ups. The sweat was just vaporizing off of Hendrix, like he was on fire. Amazing pictures.

He had that hat with the feather in it. Something about a powerful sweaty gorgeous black man in 1968, though, that just didn’t sit right with a boss headed for the aluminum window business.

If you really want to get a taste of Philly from back in the days, read anything by pulp writer David Goodis. He lived and wrote in the Frankford section of Philly, I believe. His themes were consistent: the downward spiral. Down There is probably his best one. Truffaut made it into Shoot the Piano Player, which takes place in Paris, but the book is purely Philadelphia Palookaville: Front Street bars and cold dark neighborhoods. Typically, and as far as I know, Goodis has never even been acknowledged by the city. Maybe by now, but I wouldn’t know. Ignoring its more offbeat and interesting native talent is something I still hold against the place.

So, we mostly moved around the Philly area. I had barely made it through high school, and driving tractor trailers underage really didn’t prepare me for any kind of art or writing career. So we bounced around mostly in the Palookaville neighborhoods. Eventually, I got some licks in the commercial art racket, beginning with night shift in the ad department of The Philadelphia Bulletin, and we eventually scraped enough money together to hightail it to New York.

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